Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks Upon Signing the Nurse Training Act of 1964

September 04, 1964

Members of the Congress. ladies and gentlemen :

The best of health for all Americans is a primary national goal for all of us. Today we are moving a long step nearer that objective. The Nurse Training Act of 1964 is the most significant nursing legislation in the history of our country. I believe that it will enable us to attract many more of our most qualified young people to this great and noble calling.

Nurses today are essential members of our Nation's health team. The health needs of a growing population cannot be met without their help. Blessed with the gifts of healing and with a wise and understanding heart, nurses perform a vital role in maintaining and strengthening America's health services and our national well-being. Yet we are critically short of the nurses that we need.

Far too many people today suffer needlessly, or go without the attention they require, simply because we do not have enough well-trained nurses. About 20 percent of positions for professional nurses in hospitals are today unfilled. The shortage of nurses has forced some hospitals to close wards and entire sections. Others have been obliged to fill vacancies with people who are poorly, or at least incompletely, trained.

By the year 1970 we will need 850,000 nurses. That is a startling figure, but that is 300,000 more than we have today. At their present strength, our nursing schools can graduate only 30,000 a year. Clearly the capacity to train additional thousands of nurses must be increased, if we are to improve or even maintain America's national health standards.

The Nurse Training Act of 1964, which we have met this morning to finally sign and complete, represents the response of an enlightened Congress to the urgent need. The act contains four principal elements. It authorizes a program of grants to build and renovate nursing schools; it establishes a program to help schools of nursing strengthen and improve their training programs and to help diploma schools of nursing meet the costs which will come with increased enrollment; it expands the existing program of advanced training of professional nurses; it establishes a loan program which will enable many talented but needy students to undertake the professional training for a nursing career.

All of this has very special meaning for the young women of our Nation; by removing some of the financial barriers to training it will enable many more deserving and talented young women to enter the proud profession of nursing.

A century has passed since Florence Nightingale and Clara Barton brought the art of nursing on to the world's stage. We owe a great debt of gratitude to these courageous and dedicated women, and to the many other women who have served humanity throughout our long history. Today's nurse must be both humanitarian and scientist. Her great compassion must be matched by much greater competence.

So the Nurse Training Act of 1964 is recognition of the new needs of the profession, as well as the growing needs of all of our people. We feel a very special debt to those whose legislative effort and dedication and energy and hard work made this legislation possible.

I particularly appreciate the efforts of Congressman Oren Harris, who is the author of much good legislation; and my dear friend Senator Lister Hill, who is unable to be with us this morning; Congressman Kenneth Roberts, who chaired the subcommittee which held the detailed hearings; and the other Members of the House and Senate committees that pioneered this legislation and are responsible for bringing it safely through both bodies.

You see them on the platform this morning. I am sorry that they are not outdoors people and they all like to get up in the shade, but they are here to receive what is properly theirs, a tribute for their pioneering effort in this field where we need this legislation so much.

This is truly a notable achievement toward raising the standards of health care in the United States. I predict that down through the years to come that every person here this morning will be proud that they were permitted to be a participant in this historic legislation that will do so much to keep our Nation healthy and that will permit our suffering to at least be endurable as a result of a compassionate and concerned nurse.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke in midmorning in the Rose Garden at the White House. During his remarks he referred to Representative Oren Harris of Arkansas, and to Senator Lister Hill and Representative Kenneth A. Roberts of Alabama.

The Nurse Training Act of 1964 is Public Law 88-581 (78 Slat. 908).

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks Upon Signing the Nurse Training Act of 1964 Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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